The Enlightening Journey of Mr Hugo Ball

ANDREW FINNIE

Synopsis

February, 1916, Zurich, Switzerland: Mr Hugo Ball announces the beginning of the Dada Anti-Art movement by reciting a nonsensical poem entitled “Karawane” to a bewildered public.

The poem begins with the lines:

 jolifanto bambla o falli bambla
 großiga m’pfa habla horem
 egiga goramen
 higo bloiko russula huju


A photograph of Hugo shows him dressed in his ‘sorcerer’s outfit’ – a cardboard cylinder, a cardboard hat and trousers, wings and oversized lobster claw gloves.

February, 2018, Maitland, Australia – 102 years later : Hugo himself,  dressed in the same attire, features in a series of digital paintings that pay  homage to many of the world’s best known artists – among them  Fra Angelico,Vermeer, Mondrian, Degas and Caravaggio. 

In these works the Anti-Art movement threatens to come full circle – ironically with Hugo as the fulcrum.

The Catalyst For The Exhibition

‘For quite a few years I’d been perplexed by an old photograph of a man dressed in what looked like cardboard trousers, jacket and cape.

The man was Hugo Ball, and he was dressed in, what he called, his ‘wizard’s outfit’. On his hands he wore lobster gloves, on his head, an odd looking chef’s hat.  I knew he had something to do with Dada poetry and all I knew about Dada poetry was that you made it by pulling random words out of a hat - or so I thought.

My interest piqued, I discovered that  Hugo Ball was not just one of the catalysts for the Dada movement, in fact he was its annunciator. The photo commemorated a night at the Cabaret Voltaire  (Zurich) in 1916, the night he declared Dada’s presence to the world with a sound poem made of meaningless words entitled ‘Karawane’.

The more I read about Mr. Ball and Dada’s premise of rejecting the essence of traditional art (but replacing it with nothing else), the more they seemed faintly ridiculous. The idea that discounting all that had gone before as ‘irrelevant’ seemed irrelevant in itself. In fact a little study showed that, as Dada became more accepted, it eventually became anti-Dada.

With this in mind, I postulated that, if Mr. Ball were still alive, he might benefit from more of an art ‘education’. I would take this fellow dressed in his stiff cardboard outfit and place him in paraphrases of works by other artists.

Of course the idea is as equally nonsensical as the Dada movement itself - so I felt the two would make good bedfellows.’

 

Andrew Finnie, August 2017

Hugo Ball

Hugo Ball (German, 1886 – 1927) was one of the leading Dada artists. He was a performer and writer. As a poet he pioneered the development of sound poetry.

An avant-garde movement, Dada was anti-establishment and anti-art. Framed by  the carnage of The Great War, Dada mocked the current materialistic and nationalistic attitudes.

In 1916 Hugo Ball created his version of the Dada manifesto. In that same year, dressed in his cardboard ‘wizard’s’ costume, Ball performed his sound poem ‘Karawane’ to a bewildered audience.

 

The poem was meaningless, reflecting the ‘meaning’ of Dada itself. Other members of the Dada group were artists such as Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and, later, Marcel Duchamp.

After two years of Dadaist works, Ball left the group. He worked as a journalist, then turned to Gnostic Catholicism, living a frugal and quiet life. He died in 1927 from stomach cancer.

In recent years his work has influenced modern songwriters and composers - perhaps most well known are the ‘Talking Heads’ who adapted his poem “Gadji beri bimba” in the song “I Zimbra” for their 1979 Fear of  Music album.

As the first conceptual art movement, Dada had an important influence on many later
artistic movements.